Predicting Alzheimer’s Disease

Over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. It is highly likely that you or a loved one knows someone who has been affected. And although Alzheimer’s is quite commonplace among aging individuals, it is not just a symptom of normal aging. It is a progressive, fatal disease. It is one that can potentially be cured or prevented with further research. And while the cure has not yet been found, some BYU FHSS faculty have been gathering data that is promising for the future.

Dr. Jonathan Wisco

Dr. Jonathan Wisco, associate director of the MRI lab here at BYU, has a special interest in studying the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain – particularly the early stages of the brain degeneration. He’s looking for what he calls the “Holy Grail” of Alzheimer’s research: early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease in brain tissue, and he spoke about this research at our recent gerontology conference.

Many outward expressions of brain degeneration are commonly seen at the beginning stages of several different types of dementias. The problem is that it is virtually impossible to tell which way the brain and body will go from there. Will it be to Parkinson’s, Frontotemporal Dementia, or Alzheimer’s?  For the past several years, Wisco has been studying the brain to find what might indicate the track a particular individual is on – and thus aid in the future treatment of that person.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Memory Loss
  • Executive system function deficits
  • Difficulty planning/solving problems
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks
  • Confusion of time and place
  • New problems with speaking or writing
  • Inability to retrace steps
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Night terrors

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There are also 2 different types of Alzheimer’s:

  • Familial Alzheimer’s is translated genetically, and it often comes up in the fifth or sixth decade of life, with a quick deterioration of the brain.
  • Sporadic Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease, and it typically begins in the eighth decade of life and beyond.

Before coming to BYU, Wisco knew the symptoms of Alzheimers, those that manifested within the brain as well as those that manifested outside it. He collected a lot of data before coming to BYU. But he didn’t know quite what to do with it all.

“At one point while I was at UCLA my work had stalled. I had no idea how I was going to interpret [some data] I had come up with,” said Wisco. “Then when I arrived here at BYU, Dr. Kauwe from Biology invited a bunch of us faculty  who were interested in Alzheimer’s to meet together. Dr. Richard Watt from the Chemistry  department was in attendance, he had some data that he couldn’t make sense of, and his data was all over the map, as was mine.” Wisco and Watt did some comparisons and were able to make some links between symptoms that could potentially be predictors of Alzheimer’s disease.

Old man

Wisco and Watt have worked together for some time now, and have been able to find some potentially groundbreaking evidence of predictors for Alzheimer’s. “What we didn’t expect to find in our research was that the inflammatory  response is probably contributing to signal decay. The pathological response to the disease itself is causing more problems in individuals with Alzheimer’s.”

“The results were exciting to see,” said Wisco. “And we’re curious and anxious to know if this is happening in different parts of the brain that we haven’t yet analyzed.”

Wisco’s research is expected to continue, and they are awaiting  further results from their lab research. And so far, “The results look  promising.”

Do you know someone with Alzheimer’s?




Are Girls Meaner than Boys? Research Says No.

It may be said by some that an unflattering stereotypes exists of girls—particularly teenage girls—to be catty, manipulative back-stabbers.  But are girls meaner than boys? Dr. Marion K. Underwood, our recent Hinckley Lecturer, and a prolific researcher on the subject, particularly in the context of social media, says no.

According to Underwood’s research, the size of the gender difference in indirect aggression is so small that it is certainly negligible.

What was found, however, was that although girls and boys engage in social aggression equally often, social aggression may take different forms in boys and girls – and have different social consequences.

To test whether or not there really was a difference between boys and girls in social aggression, Underwood and her colleagues conducted a study of kids who nominated each other as best friends as they interacted with a newcomer.


The study showed that boys had a higher level of verbal social exclusion. Boys were more likely to say: “you can’t play with us” or “shut up.” But girls had a dramatically higher tendency to use non-verbal means to exclude others.

“It may be that it is the non-verbal social aggression that may be the sole province of girls,” says Underwood. She adds:

“A lot of research from social psychology shows that girls and women define themselves on the basis of their relationships. and perhaps because we care so much about close relationships and high regard  from others, especially when angry, when we want to hurt somebody, we might seek to attack the social status and friendships of others.”



What Parents Can Do:

Dr. Underwood gave a few suggestions for parents to help their children learn to be socially inclusive.

  • From the beginning be clear that social aggression hurts others and that you won’t tolerate the behavior. “We need to say, ‘That hurts people’s feelings. That’s not okay. Stop doing that.'”
  • Refrain from modeling social aggression for children.
  • Interrupt social aggression when you observe it among your child with peers. They should know, at the very least, that you – the parent – don’t approve of it. 
  • Talk with your child about what type of friend they want to be, what kinds of friends they want to have, and convey that everyone deserves friends they can trust.
  • Encourage your child to intervene with peers to interrupt social aggression — silence conveys approval, so speak up and say anything to help it stop.


One study showed that, during a typical school lunch, after one person made an ugly remark about someone else, 80% of the time nearly everyone else at the table would join in, piling on their rude remarks. However, the other 20% of the time, one person present would immediately “challenge” the negative statement. They didn’t need to necessarily  oppose the statement. Changing the subject was often a simple enough strategy.

“If one person spoke up  immediately, [the gossip] was over. It was done.”

If this happened, nobody else joined in. It had to be immediate or it didn’t work. It didn’t make a difference who made a statement, as long as it was made. Encouraging children to defend others by challenging negative statements can be an effective means of curbing social aggression.


Hope for the Future

Though kids do engage in negative interactions part of the time, research shows that most of what happens between them is positive and good. “When you…read the popular media,” says Dr. Underwood, “it’s so tempting to think that young people do these behaviors all the time, that they’re constantly being hateful and manipulative. But I believe that nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Perhaps, then, the best way to fix negative social interactions could be to simply replace it with the positive. “Children and adolescents can be wonderfully kind, pro-social, courageous and positive leaders,” says Underwood, “And I think that’s ultimately the hope of bringing down levels of negative behavior among youth.”

How do you encourage YOUR youth to be inclusive?

The full video of Dr. Underwood’s lecture can be seen here.

FHSS Student Wins 3 Minute Thesis Competition

Congratulations to FHSS graduate students, Bonnie Young-Petersen and Nathan Robbins, who represented our college at the third annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition at BYU!

Robbins and Young-Peterson were the two winners of the FHSS preliminary competition that took place on March 1st. They each received $500 and were given the opportunity to move on and compete in the university 3MT competition on March 10th.

University Competition

At this competition, hosted by BYU’s Graduate Student Society, Robbins and Young-Petersen went up against students from colleges all across campus for prizes of up to $5,000. Young-Petersen, who is in her first year of the Marriage and Family Therapy MS program, presented her research on pornography and young adults. Her research showed that although 85% of young adults reported viewing pornography, only 10% of young adults reported behaviors that could be recognized as addictive. She said in her 3MT, “not all porn use is porn addiction and not all porn users are porn addicts.”

Her impressive presentation earned her first place in a surprising three-way tie with two other students. Looking back, Young-Petersen is grateful for the opportunity she had to participate in the competition. Of her experience, she said,

I was so impressed by the quality – and relevance – of research done by those in all levels of the competition. It made me proud to be part of a university that promotes and supports such innovative and important research. Competing with my peers was an excellent opportunity to gain insight into and respect for other disciplines at BYU and also provided opportunities to connect with those peers in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.

Watch Bonnie Young-Petersen’s full presentation below.

What is 3 Minute Thesis?

3MT was founded at the University of Queensland in 2008 as a means of celebrating exciting research done by students. Participants were to explain their research “in a language appropriate to a non-specialist audience” by doing a three minute presentation (if it goes over three minutes you are disqualified!). The competition quickly gained popularity. There have now been competitions held in over 170 universities across more than 18 countries worldwide.

Watch the video below from the UQ 2014 3MT winner, Dr. Megan Rossi, to better understand the benefits of participating in the competition. To learn more, visit the 3MT website.

The 3MT competition is held annually at BYU. If you missed it this year, plan to attend (or participate) next year! It is a great opportunity to get a glimpse of all the amazing research being done at BYU. If you just can’t wait until next year, take a look right now at last year’s winners or watch the presentations of the two students who tied for first place this year with Bonnie Young-Petersen – Ashley Nelson and Rachel Messick.

Photo of BYU winners courtesy of BYU Graduate Student Society

Four Tips for Keeping Your Teen Safe on Social Media


To help you keep your kids safe from harm online, we recently shared five expert tips for managing your kids’ social media use. But the threat of harm doesn’t just come from online strangers and predators. In fact, it most often comes from your child’s closest friends. Dr. Marion K. Underwood, who was been conducting research studies in teen texting and social media use for 13 years, and who spoke about the results of that research at our recent Hinckley lecture, partnered with CNN and Anderson Cooper to uncover the Secret World of Teens. What they found may surprise you.


Do You Know What’s Happening Online?

In one survey, 94% of parents underestimated the amount of fighting their children were involved in on social media. And 60% underestimated how lonely, worried, and depressed their kids were. So what might be the reasons that parents seem to be so unaware of what’s going on in their teens’ online lives? The answer isn’t simply apathy. Most parents say that they do indeed attempt to monitor their children’s social media activity. The answers are more complex:

    1. The subtleties of exclusion and social combat are difficult to spot, especially for parents who are not particularly literate in regards to social media.
    2. Kids don’t talk about the kind of conflict they’re experiencing online because they feel parents can’t help.

The most effective way to reduce these kinds of conflict, according to our expert, is to communicate openly, and to be an active participant (with your own account) on social media.

Online Aggression

Malevolent behavior is undoubtedly experienced by teens in the real world. And the online world is no different. 47% percent of teens from the #Being13 survey said that they felt purposely excluded by their friends online. And 36% admitted to purposely excluding others. Teens notice, but do their parents? Several forms of online aggression may be taking place in your child’s social network that you may not even recognize.


Besides negative comments directly aimed at others (something you’re likely to spot if it’s aimed at your own child), there are other forms of aggression that can be detrimental to adolescents’ self-confidence. One prevalent means of online adolescent aggression manifests itself in the repugnant form of exclusion. Kids exclude others by:

  • Not tagging certain people in group photos.
  • Saying negative things about someone, without mentioning their name, a practice known as “Subtweeting.”
  • Making events on social media, without inviting certain friends.

“[Exclusion through social media] is a powerful form of social aggression,” says Dr. Underwood. “It is so subtle that its considered bad form [for teens] to respond. And [those who exclude] can do it with the full expectation that they will not pay one single social consequence.”


Is Social Media Addictive?

Research shows that social media users can indeed show signs of, if not an outright addiction, a heavy dependence on social media.

“I think they’re addicted to the peer connection and affirmation that they’re able to get via social media,” says Underwood. “So it’s not the screens. It’s not the devices. It’s the access that social media gives them to each other.”

Communicate and Participate

Open communication with your children can effectively remedy these kinds of problems. Here are a few suggestions from the #Being13 experts:

1. Talk with our children about their online lives and what they’re doing on social media. We need to get them talking to us from a young age.

“Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts of children on social media.”

2. Encourage them not to keep score. Don’t worry if you’re not tagged. Don’t tally up your likes. Don’t exclude other people. Just enjoy being connected with good friends.

3. Help kids remember that it’s possible to have fun in other ways.

4. Use the strength of your relationship with your child. Get them away from social media periodically – not as punishment, and not by ripping it out of their hands, but by simply reminding them that if it’s making them feel bad, they can find lots of alternative ways to interact with their friends and others.

For more specific, research-based tips on interacting with your kids on social media, check out this Y-Magazine article, How to Like Your Teens.


Increase Your Understanding: Fulton conference

There is perhaps no more unique an opportunity for us to support research that increases everyone’s collective ability to understand the world around us and to engage with the people around us, and to see what great work our undergraduate students are capable of, than at the annual Fulton Mentored Student Research Conference. This year’s conference is just around the corner, and promises to inform on topics such as social networking as a means of treating HIV/AIDS orphans, and educational inequality in the U.S. and abroad, and many others.

Electronic Sign resized

The Mary Lou Fulton Endowed Chair in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences is pleased to host the 12th Annual Mentored Student Research Conference on Thursday, April 7, 2016. The conference will be held in the Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and is open to the public.  The conference will feature research done in the areas of neuroscience, sociology, social work, psychology, family life, geography, anthropology, history, political science, and economics.

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The conference is a unique opportunity for hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students to present their most recent research visually and succinctly. Parents and family members, students across the Y’s campus, and members of the community are invited.

About Mary Lou Fulton

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences honors the life and contributions of Mary Lou Fulton by designating a chair in her name. Mary Lou was a wonderful example of a Latter-day Saint woman who, after devoted service raising her family, returned to college to finish her degree. Throughout her life, Mary Lou sought to help those with personal challenges, whether assisting her own students who struggled with reading or rendering quiet service to neighbors and ward members.

During her lifetime, Mary Lou and her husband Ira supported causes and programs that uphold and strengthen the family unit. This goal continues to be a high priority for Ira, as well as helping others remain free of addictive substances or crippling afflictions that limit their possibilities in life.

Fulton Photo

About the Mary Lou Fulton Endowed Chair

The Mary Lou Fulton Endowed Chair provides meaningful research and educational experiences for students, faculty, and children. Mary Lou’s passion for educating and elevating others is reflected in the many elements of the chair, established by her husband Ira A. Fulton in 2004 to honor and recognize her example. The Chair also funds internship grants, professorships, and young scholar awards.

About the Conference

Giving students a forum to present mentored learning projects is key to future opportunities. The Chair funds an annual showcase of student research and provides travel grants for students to present their scholarly work at major professional and academic conferences around the United States.


Beyond A Career: College Degree Helps Motherhood


Educational levels for women in America are the highest they have ever been. Women with infant children are now the most educated than any of their predecessors. In fact, the Pew Center reports that “on average, a mother with more education is more likely to deliver a baby at term and more likely to have a baby with a healthy birth weight.”

Renata Forste, professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, says that a college degree helps a woman in both her career and her parenting. Research shows that kids who have a college-educated mother do better than kids who do not. “I don’t think people think about the fact their college education is critical and will help them be a better parent, a better mother. They only think of it in terms of, well if I need it I can get a better job,” Forste says.

Maternal education matters.

Callie Smith, who graduated from a Utah university and used to play tennis for BYU, welcomed a baby girl to her family late last year. She says the education from her degree in Exercise Sport and a minor in Nutrition helps her physically, emotionally, and mentally. “It’s helped me deal with the stress and no sleep because I am used to it from studying all the time,” Smith says. She says the study skills she gained from a college education and knowing how to research makes a difference. “I solve problems all the time as a mom and I research stuff like different ways to nurse and how to help a baby relieve gas. I learned that baby acne is normal.”

Although breastfeeding practices proved difficult for Smith when her daughter was born in December, she has stuck with it and plans to for awhile.

Forste co-authored a study with fellow professor of sociology Benjamin Gibbs in the “Journal of Pediatrics” titled, “Breastfeeding, Parenting and Cognitive Development” which reports that “there is a positive relationship between breastfeeding for at least 3 months and child rearing skills, but this link is the result of cognitively supportive parenting behaviors and greater levels of education among women who predominately breastfeed.”

The researchers also said that they “found little-to-no relationship between infant feeding practices and the cognitive development of children with less-educated mothers. Instead, reading to a child every day and being sensitive to a child’s development were significant predictors of math and reading readiness outcomes.”

From her background in nutrition, Smith says she is super aware of what she eats and knows that keeping a healthy immune system is important for her baby’s own health. As a new mom, Smith says she talks to Kamber and that it feels natural for her. “I let her know that I love her. She mimics me when I talk to her and I feel that on some level she understands.”

At the end of the day, Smith agrees that one thing motherhood and college have in common is being a challenge. “I had to challenge myself as a college student and that is what I do everyday as a mom.”


Photos courtesy of Callie Smith. 

How to Spark Kids’ Interest in Civil Rights: FHSS Professor Rebecca de Schweinitz

You may not think that your seven-year-old would understand the concept of civil rights, much less care about it, but they can. Not only that, children can and have been agents of civil rights change in our nation’s past. So, who’s to say that they can’t be our change agents of the future? That’s a question that FHSS History professor Rebecca de Schweinitz answered in her book If We Could Change The World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality, recently mentioned in an article in Time Magazine.

“Everyday people, including children and youth, changed the course of history,” she said, in reference to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. In her book, she offers these tips to help parents spark their kids’ interest in Civil Rights:

Tell Stories

Elementary aged kids love stories, de Schweinitz told Time. Tell them stories about children like them who showed courage during the Civil Rights Movement, or others who’ve made a difference. There are plenty of stories to choose from, including:


Parents can tell the stories of the brave children who integrated into white classrooms after desegregation. That was a time that put kids “at the center of the nation’s struggle for racial equality,” said de Schweinitz.

Parents can also tell the stories of young activists like Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, who spoke on campus recently. She told the students in attendance that she recognized the harmful effects of segregation when she was just 10-years-old. At this young age, she promised herself that she would do something to help make things better when she got the chance. By the time she was 19-years-old Mulholland had participated in over three dozen sit ins and protests, including one of the most famous and violent sit-ins of the movement at the Jackson Woolworth lunch counter. She also participated in the March on Washington and rode with the Freedom Riders. Countless other children and young people were involved in the movement in one way or another.

Ask Questions

According to de Schweinitz, as kids get older, parents can start asking them questions that get them thinking about their role in society. They can ask their children about what they would change in the world today. This could also be a time of reflection. Parents can encourage their kids to think about what they have learned from stories about young people in history who have worked for change. How they can apply those lessons to their lives today?

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Have Conversations

Parents and children can start having conversations about the personal cost of fighting for change by the time kids reach high school.  They can discuss possible reasons that people are willing to sacrifice for a cause they believe in, particularly why young people might be even more willing to work for change. “One of the truly striking aspects of youth activism in movement history was how much young people were consciously willing to give up,”de Schweinitz says.


Dig Deeper

The names of key figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman likely come to mind first when thinking about the Civil Rights Movement. Though it may take a deeper look, de Schweinitz says it is clear that kids have never just been pawns or followers in the long fight for civil rights. Kids, she said, have always felt their “own determination to fight for racial equality. This was their movement, too.” Parents can help their kids look more closely at the role of children and young people in the movement and how their courage and participation made a big difference.

Have you done any of these things with your kids? How did they react?

Civil Rights Book Photo courtesy of Flickr

Celebrate Your Brain During Brain Awareness Week March 14-20

What do you know about your brain?


This week is Brain Awareness Week, and BYU’s Neuroscience Club  wants to help you  learn all about your brain, and touch some sheep brains.

Brain FHE

To kick off the week, all BYU Students and families are invited to attend a special Family Home Evening event. Come learn about your nervous system from Dr. Brown and Dr. Kirwan. They will provide presentations on neuro-anatomy, sensation, and perception that people of all ages can understand. Get there early because last time we ran out of seats!

When: Monday, March 14 @ 7pm

Where: SWKT 250

Learn more about this event here.


Impaired Basketball @ WILK Booth

Come to the WILK any day this week for lunch and shoot a basketball while wearing drunk goggles!

Good luck.

When: Monday-Friday: 11am-1pm

Where: WILK Terrace

Touch Sheep Brains!

That’s right. You heard us.


The Neuroscience club is asking for volunteers to help teach K-12 children across the valley about the brain throughout the week. To do so, they’ll be using sheep brains. Join them, and YOU’LL be using sheep brains.

You do NOT need any prior knowledge of the brain to participate – the club will teach you everything you need to know.  To volunteer, you can sign up on this google doc.

The First Fifty Years of Relief Society


Since the leadership of Emma Smith as president of the Relief Society in 1842, the philanthropic organization has come a long way. The organization is now led by its sixteenth president, Linda K. Burton, and continues to spread its influence across the four corners of the globe. But what about the first half-century of its existence? What can individuals learn from the first five decades of its growth and impact?

Reflief Society WHM 2016

Women’s History specialist Kate Holbrook is the co-editor of “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society” and will present this book and answer questions at a lecture event sponsored by the Women’s Studies Program at Brigham Young University. Holbrook works for the LDS Church History department and is an author for the Religious Studies Center at BYU.


Thursday, Mar 17

Book Lecture & Reception: The First Fifty Years of Relief Society Years

11 AM, B192 JFSB

The Women’s Studies program at BYU, a joint program in the College of Humanities and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, is an interdisciplinary forum for the study of women’s past and present position in global society. A minor in women’s studies can unlock a variety of doors: to graduate study, or to numerous arenas of work and social-change leadership where specialized knowledge on women is an asset.